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Memorial Day remembrances, through the generations

Sneed: Father and stepfather both served country heroically during World War II

Flags are placed near headstones at the Vicksburg National Cemetery during the Memorial Day flag placement event in Vicksburg, Miss., Friday, May 28, 2021. About 40 volunteers placed nearly 1,700 flags.
Eric Shelton/AP

My generation is silent.

It has no name.

We are not the “Baby Boomers.”

Or classified as the “Greatest Generation.”

Or the “Millennials” or the “Gen Xers” or whatever appellation gets tossed in our nation’s alphabet soup of America’s generational descriptions.

My generation, an eye blink in our nation’s post-World War II birth demarcation chain, are outliers described sometimes for lack of a better word as the “Silent Generation.”

Born during the 1941-1945 inferno called WWII, raised by young women and families unable to serve in the military overseas, my generation was cradled by hard-working mothers fearing news of war dead — and then swaddled in the largess of a booming American economy after the war.

And, ostensibly because we are “silent,” we came this/close to NOT producing a U.S. president until the last minute! That’s when former veep Joe Biden, who was born November 20, 1942, swept into office in January.

So on this eve of Memorial Day, come reflections on the courage of men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Military.

And my personal larder of memories, remembrances of promises kept.

Memory #1

Watching a woman weeping uncontrollably at an American cemetery gravesite in Normandy, France, which is dedicated to American troops killed in Europe during WWII.

“It was the first time she had visited his grave,” a cemetery attendant told me during a trip to France in 1975.

“The man she is with married her after the war,” he said.

“He has just fulfilled his lifetime promise to bring her to visit the grave of the soldier husband she had lost to war decades ago.”

Here was a story of the ages; love full circle.

Memory #2

In April 2007, a retired U.S. Marine Corps attorney, the husband of my cousin, told me the story of an unkept promise he made 40 years ago during the Vietnam War in 1967, the year 9,378 American soldiers were killed in Vietnam alone.

His story became a Memorial Day column: “Over time, my failure to follow through with that promise . . . that commitment — became the biggest regret of my life,” said retired Marine Corps JAG Phil Seymour, the husband of my cousin, Lynne.

He had failed to give a “special, smiling” child named “Cam” — who brought the soldiers fruit in the midst of a hostile, bloody environment — a promised watch. Not doing so followed him like a hound from heaven into his retirement in North Carolina.

So, 40 years later, Seymour trekked to Vietnam to find a needle in a Vietnamese haystack accompanied with only a picture of a child dressed in blue pajamas last seen near the village of Hoi An.

“The odds against us were great. Was Cam even alive? I only knew his first name and had old photos,” Seymour said.

“Yet, hours after Seymour’s arrival, his guide, “Kien,” found Cam’s brother simply by walking across the street from their hotel armed with the aging photos.

A phone call brought Cam on a scooter, and the 49-year-old carpenter from Hoi An was presented with a self-winding Steinhausen watch.

A promise finally kept. The beginning of an extended family.”

Memory #3

A chance missed.

Over the years, nearly four decades at the Chicago Sun-Times alone, I’ve written about my Dad’s military service.

Both my late father, Richard E. Sneed, and stepfather, Charles “Doc” Stanley, won the Distinguished Flying Cross for their U.S. Army Corps service in WWII. Dad a turret gunner in the Pacific campaign, “Doc” a pilot flying the “Hump” in Burma.

My mother, who died in 2006, had a penchant for marrying heroes. She chose well.

In 1978, shortly after my father’s death, I accompanied my mother to her 40-year high school class reunion in Mandan, North Dakota. They were members of “The Greatest Generation,” many of whom had served in WWII.

I even passed out questionnaires for her classmates to fill out with the intention of writing a story.

“Mom’s classmates were children of the Depression, who didn’t believe the world owed them a living. They worked. And they worked hard. And mostly they stayed married. And sometimes they went to church,” I would later write.

It was obvious the soldiers who couldn’t afford to go to college before the war now had the opportunity to do so free on America’s dime — the new G.I. bill — and that changed the face of America.

The men who ran the country before the war came from the privileged few who could afford to send their kids to college. The children of farmers and blue-collar workers were, for the most part, without a platform.

“After the war, it was our fathers — our tough, country-bred, no-nonsense scrappers — who started turning this country around.”

In 1998, I would ask myself another question.

Why in the hell didn’t I have the sense to turn my 1978 questionnaires into the precursor of author Tom Brokaw’s 1998 best seller, “The Greatest Generation”?

But this I also remember.

My father and my widowed mother’s male classmates, who served in WWII, also had one big thing in common.

Not one of them glorified war.

Not one.

Sneedlings . . .

Saturday birthdays: Carmelo Anthony, 37; La Toya Jackson, 65; and Mel B., 46. . . . Sunday birthdays: Idina Menzel, 50; Steven Gerrard, 41; CeeLo Green, 46; and happy birthday to Marc’s dad Jay McCormack, 90.